Vital Peripheries: Western Pacific 8 July, 1987

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The Western Pacific was a region rife with potential flashpoints in early July, 1987. At the forefront of the minds of US defense planners was trying to discern what the Soviet strategy for the WestPac would be in a time of war. Immediately below this in terms of importance was the Korean situation. Overall, US Pacific Command had a substantial number of concerns on its plate. The main problem was the size and expanse of the Western Pacific region in comparison to the US forces in or near the region. In short, the United States could not be everywhere at any given time. A buildup of Soviet forces near the Philippines might draw away some US forces tagged for the defense of Japan, leaving a vulnerability that the Soviets could then exploit at their leisure.

The Soviets were certainly not making it easy to get a feel for their intentions. The majority of their air and naval forces in the Western Pacific were going about their regular activities. Routine patrols were conducted. The occasional Tu-95 took off from Cam Rahn Bay and flew lazily in the vicinity of the Philippines before US F-4s from Clark AB would escort them out of the area. The US and Soviet aircrews would wave to each other, and be cordial. Neither side behaved as if it expected to be shooting the other in the coming days. At sea, Soviet AGIs continued trailing US aircraft carrier groups in the region. Only in these cases, the Soviet’s apprehension was quite apparent and understandable. The trawler crews realized if hostilities began, they would likely become the first casualties at sea. The close distance they kept to US carriers and their escorts essentially guaranteed a short lifespan in wartime.

The Red Banner Pacific Fleet was nowhere near as brazen as their AGI comrades. Most of the fleet’s surface ships and attack submarines remained in Vladivostok, while its SSBNs sat tied up to their quays at Petropavlosk. Unlike the Red Banner Northern Fleet, Black Sea Squadron, and Baltic Fleet, Russia’s Pacific Fleet was not making an overt move. Whether this would mean an absence of Soviet military moves in the Pacific or not remained to be seen. The US Navy was not taking any chances. 7th Fleet only had one aircraft carrier in its area; Midway. Her battlegroup was steaming towards a station west of Japan for the time being. Ranger and her battlegroup was on its way west, however, it would be another week before they were available for operations. Until that time, one carrier group was not going to be enough to challenge the Pacific Fleet if it sortied, or to start working over military targets in Vladivostok and on the Kamchatka peninsula.

The Korean peninsula was the other major flashpoint that Pacific Command was concerned about. The North Koreans were an unpredictable bunch. It wouldn’t be beyond them to launch an invasion of South Korea if South’s most powerful ally was distracted. Since the possibility existed, US forces in South Korea, Japan, and Okinawa could not be committed elsewhere. That in itself could prove to be enough to entice North Korea to move south. The South Korean armed forces had come a long way in the past decade. Their equipment was modern and their officer corps highly motivated. If push came to shove on the peninsula, the South Koreans would acquit themselves well. It is the United States tripwire in Korea, however, that deters the North Koreans from moving south.

So, with war clouds moving in across the globe, the Commander-In-Chief of the Pacific, Admiral Ron Hays was confident in his command, and thankful that at least for the moment, his primary opponent did not appear to be eager about initiating a major action the moment the balloon went up. That could change. According to the last report from the Pentagon, the probability of war breaking out between the United States and Soviet Union in the next 24 hours was estimated to be at 92% as of 1200 Honolulu time.

 

 

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